New York | Travel Guide
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Update October 4: The US plans to reopen to vaccinated UK visitors from November but at the moment is closed to most foreign visitors, including from the UK.
Travel rules changed on October 4. If you're fully vaccinated and returning to the UK from New York you just need a to fill out the UK government's Passenger Locator form and book a day 2 PCR test. Unvaccinated travellers will still need to follow the old amber list rules - pre-departure test, 10 days' isolation and tests on days 2 and 8.
If you're fully vaccinated you'll need to take a day 2 PCR test once you return.
If you aren't fully vaccinated you'll need to take a pre-departure PCR test plus ones on day 2 and day 8 while you self-isolate on your return.
Children under 18 won't need to self-isolate but will still need to take the precautionary tests. Those aged 5-10 only need to take the day 2 test and those under 4 are exempt from any testing or self-isolation.
When you're there:
Since Sep 13, most activities in New York - including indoor dining, entertainment and exercise - have been limited to those able to demonstrate their vaccination status via the New York pass.
New York Travel Guide
Hopping across the pond? Our essential guide to New York is the best place to find out everything you need to know before you travel.
A little about New York…
New York, the city of many nicknames, has a whimsical magic to each and every one of them. New York is a world of its own, with more than 600 languages spoken across its 300 square miles, making it a truly international city of the world.
A cultural hub - whether it's fashion, art, food or pop-culture, New York is in its own league. You could spend a week in this city simply wandering the streets and never get bored. Even the storefronts are extravagant attractions. Around every corner is a location from a movie and you only have to look up to experience an urban canopy of high-rise rooftops.
There's a reason New York is referred to as 'The City That Never Sleeps' - with so much going on it can be easy to feel a little overwhelmed by it all. It's frantically busy being home to more than 8.5 million people. Popular boroughs like Manhattan are sometimes criticised for being expensive, dirty and unforgivingly chaotic if you're not keeping your eyes wide open. However, there's so much more to this massive city than its iconic landmarks, and in this guide we explore the breadth of what New York City has to offer, no matter what you're looking for from your trip.
In addition to Manhattan there are 4 other boroughs: Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island. Only the Bronx sits on the mainland, the rest of the city is spread out over a group of islands in New York Bay. Within these boroughs are neighbourhoods that all have their own personalities. Plus the city continues to appear in the top 10 most-visited destinations on the Mastercard Global Destination Cities Index year after year.
Here's what to expect from our New York travel guide:
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Need to know about New York
Located on the northeastern coast of the United States, New York City is the most densely populated city in the country. It was also the first capital city of the United States in 1789.
Residing in the EST time zone, New York is four hours behind GMT, meaning jet lag shouldn't be too bothersome. Here are a few more things to bear in mind before your trip.
Do I need a visa to visit New York?
The USA has a visa waiver programme, which means that citizens of certain countries don't need a visa to stay in the USA for up to 90 days for business or leisure. This includes the UK, so UK citizens don't need a visa to enter the USA on holiday.
However, you will need to apply for an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) - the states' way of keeping tabs on who is coming into the country. It's recommended you apply for an ESTA at least 72 hours before departure, and it lasts for 2 years providing you keep the same passport.
You can apply for your ESTA online. But stay vigilant - there are lots of unofficial websites that will charge more for the application than the government site. An ESTA application should only cost $14, and can be purchased safely here.
What's the weather like in New York?
The weather in New York isn't too different to what we experience in the UK, with an average of 25°C in July and 2°C in January. The winter months are susceptible to fierce snow storms, so it's worth checking the forecast if you're planning on visiting at this time of year. You can find a detailed breakdown of New York's annual weather trends here.
Travelling to New York
Our journey started at London Heathrow. After dropping our car with a handy meet and greet service, we checked in and went to an airport lounge which gave us some time to enjoy a bit of peace and quiet before the 8-hour flight to New York's JFK Airport. And to save any hassle getting into the city we had booked an airport transfer for the hour-long trip to our accommodation. We stayed in Manhattan, the central island and heart of the city.
Travelling around New York
The thought of getting around New York City can be pretty intimidating, but once you get your head around the public transport system you'll be navigating the city blocks like a local. Here's how we got around while we were there…
New York Subway
The main way to get around the city, the whole subway system operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. So you'll be able to get back to your accommodation no matter how late you're out exploring. Our usual advice for finding your way around a new city is to use Google Maps, but you can't always rely on your phone signal while riding the subway. So it's also a good idea to pick up a subway map from any station.
You should also pick up a MetroCard for $1, which acts like Oyster Cards do in London. You can buy a single journey on a MetroCard, but if you're planning on using the subway more than once, there are more cost-effective options available…
Pay-Per-Ride MetroCards work like a prepaid card, and can be loaded up with money before you travel. You'll be charged each time you ride, and the more money you add, the more of a discount you'll receive.
Pay-Per-Ride MetroCards are available in denominations of $5.50, $10.48, $20.95, $26.19, $39.29, and $61.90.
Unlimited Ride MetroCard
The Unlimited Ride MetroCard works like a season ticket, allowing you choose the length of time that you want to use the metro. There are no zones, so one ride will cost the same no matter how long it takes.
You can get a variety of Unlimited Ride MetroCards, ranging from 7 to 30 days, and $32 to $121 in cost.
You can buy MetroCards in most subway stations, just look for the MetroCard ticket machines.
New York Taxi
There's no form of transportation more iconic in New York than the yellow cab. Riding in one is as much an attraction as it is a means to an end. To hail a cab, step off the curb and hold your arm out at a taxi with its light on (if the light is off, it already has a passenger).
A taxi can take a maximum of 4 people and the minimum fare is $2.50. The fare will then increase 50 cents per 1/5 of a mile. It's also worth remembering that there's a nighttime surcharge of 50 cents from 8pm until 6am, and a peak hour weekday surcharge of $1 from 4pm to 8pm.
We found Uber to be the cheaper option, although it doesn't quite have the same appeal as riding around the city in a yellow cab. When in New York…
Depending on where you're staying, walking can be one of the best ways of exploring New York authentically. If you're staying in Manhattan, particularly for a week or longer, we'd recommend taking some comfy shoes for an amble down the city streets. However, if time is tight or you're looking to explore further afield, public transport is absolutely the way to go.
The boroughs of New York
Now you know how to get around it's just a question of where to go. Here's what you can expect to find in each of New York's boroughs…
When people think of New York City, Manhattan is often the first place they picture. Over many decades, Manhattan has become a metropolis of colour, culture, diversity and architecture. Throughout the 19th century, it grew rapidly thanks to the city's economic upturn and rise in immigration, both of which helped to establish New York as a diverse, ever-evolving cultural hotspot.
Manhattan is home to many world-famous landmarks that that attract visitors from all over the world. Even the street names are iconic – think Wall Street, Madison Avenue, 42nd Street, Broadway and more! Couple all this with the world's brightest theater district, some of the tallest high-rise buildings you will ever see, and you could spend a week on this tiny island and still not see everything!
How to get around Manhattan
Manhattan is divided into 3 sections: Downtown, Midtown and Uptown, each with their own distinct feel. Most of the island is laid out in a grid pattern, meaning it's easy to find your way around. Avenues run north to south and streets are east to west. Fifth Avenue separates the east and west sides, with street numbers increasing as you head away from Fifth.
Grand Central Station
If Manhattan is the heart of New York then Grand Central station is the heart of Manhattan. You could spend a whole day in Grand Central Station, there is that much to do there, with everything from shops, historic landmarks, bars, a food hall, tennis courts and of course trains! Keep an eye out for station's world famous clock, which is estimated to be worth between 10 and 20 million dollars! It's one of Grand Central Station's most iconic features, appearing in many movies – it's got quite the celebrity status.
Grand Central Market
Staying within the station and featuring 13 local vendors of fresh produce, gourmet ingredients and treats, the Grand Central Market is a vast European-style food market. The market hosts around 10,000 visitors per day! It's open daily too, and we can think of worse places to wait for your next train!
The Whispering Gallery
If you happen to come across people facing the wall and muttering to themselves, don't be alarmed, you've just discovered the Whispering Gallery! Located just outside the main concourse on the way to the food court, the design of the arched walls creates a fascinating acoustic phenomenon - if you say something in one corner, someone standing in the opposite corner will hear you loud and clear.
The High Line
Once you've finished exploring Grand Central Station, hop on the subway to the High Line, a beautiful public park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets. The rail was originally built in 1934 to carry goods to and from Manhattan's largest industrial district, but is now used as a beautiful outdoor space for locals and tourists to enjoy. You can still see the original railway tracks that help to preserve the heritage of the site.
You can download the High Line app to give you more information on everything that goes on there.
Traversing the length of the High Line will work up quite an appetite, but thankfully just a short walk away is Chelsea Market, known as one of the greatest food markets in the world and aptly located in the Meatpacking District at 75 Ninth Avenue. Once the home of the National Biscuit Company that was served by the trains on the High Line, it now has more than 35 different vendors selling delicious food items. Not only that, it also attracts fashionistas looking through the vintage flea market style stalls that are also based here.
Central Park offers a blissful sanctuary to appreciate trees, grass and open space, a real contrast to the rest of Manhattan. It covers around 3.5 square miles and stretches across 843 acres of land. To put that in perspective, it's almost six times larger than the city of Monaco! It's featured in more than 350 films and visited by around 40 million people a year.
A great place to view the park is from the top of the Met museum. The Cantor Rooftop Garden Bar is open during the warmer months and offers unique views of the city over the treetops. You'll have to buy a ticket to the museum to get access to the bar, but with some of the most incredible exhibitions in the world on offer, it's well worth the cost. Just be aware you'll need to reserve a timeslot to visit the Met online if you do want to go.
Whether you're visiting for the first time or the hundredth, no trip to Manhattan is complete without venturing to Times Square. Originally called Longacre Square, Times Square takes its name from the New York Times headquarters, which moved to 1 Times Square in 1904. Nowadays 1 Times Square is now mostly empty, but it holds the New Year's Eve ball and a wall of billboards that generates over $23 million per year!
On New Year's Eve, close to a million people congregate to celebrate the 'Dropping of the Ball'.
It may be one of the world's most visited tourist attractions, seeing about 50 million visitors every year, but it's still a must when in New York.
Just around the corner from Times Square is Broadway - New York's answer to London's West End. Broadway actually runs for a whopping 33 miles, 18 of which aren't even within the city limits! It begins from Lower Manhattan at Bowling Green, runs north to the Bronx and then all the way to Albany.
There are 41 Broadway Theatres in New York but despite the title, only 4 theatres are actually located on Broadway Street: The Winter Garden, The Roundabout, The Marquis, and The Broadway Theatre. In order to qualify as a Broadway theatre, it must have 500 seats and must be located between 40th Street and 54th Street, and from west of 6th Avenue to East of Eighth Avenue, including Times Square. Theatres that don't quite fulfil these qualifications are often referred to as off-Broadway.
What are the other boroughs of New York?
Manhattan warrants a travel guide all to itself, but we wanted to see as much of New York as possible, which meant exploring the other boroughs. Starting with Queens…
Queens is the largest and one of the most diverse of all the five boroughs of New York City. But if you talk to almost anyone in Queens, the first thing that gets mentioned is the food! If you're interested in exploring the culinary world all in one place, head to Roosevelt Avenue, with more than 100 blocks' worth of eateries from around the globe.
Brooklyn sits just east of Manhattan, across the river. Our highlight from Brooklyn was an area called Dumbo, which stands for "Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass". It has a similar feel to London's Shoreditch. Originally an industrial neighbourhood, it's become popular with free-thinkers and influencers heading there to get that perfect Instagram shot. This alone makes it a great destination for people-watching, especially on Washington Street. Plus there are cracking views of the Manhattan skyline from the other side of the river. If you time your visit right you can catch a pretty stunning sunset too.
To get to Dumbo you can take the F train to York Street or the A or C to High Street. There's also the New York City ferry that connects Manhattan to New York.
The Bronx is situated right above Manhattan. One of the most vibrant areas of the city, this is the birthplace of hip hop, with artists such as Grandmaster Flash and DJ Kool starting their careers here. But while the the Bronx is famous for its music scene, it also happens to be the greenest borough of New York. Central Park might grab the headlines, but Pelham Bay Park is actually the largest park in the city – it's three times the size of Central Park to be exact. If you're a nature lover, then a trip to the Bronx is a must as a hefty 25 percent of the land is park space!
Staten Island is the southernmost of New York's 5 boroughs, which you can reach from Lower Manhattan via the Staten Island Ferry. The ferry runs across New York Harbour and is completely free to everyone! Of all the boroughs, it definitely has the most residential feel to it. Make sure to visit the zoo and botanical gardens or simply catch the ferry to get great views of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. It departs from Whitehall Terminal Manhattan and runs every 30 minutes.
To wrap up
We've really only scratched the surface of what you can do in this incredible city, but hopefully we've given you enough to help you start planning your own adventure here.
Looking for more inspiration, information or a handy travel guide? You'll find more on our travel hub.
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